News / Art

Kehinde Wiley becomes the first black artist to paint an American president

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Kehinde Wiley

New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley has been tasked as the first black artist to paint a presidential portrait. Barack Obama selected the artist, known for taking instantly recognisable portraits by the likes of John Singer Sargent or Jacques-Louis David and reimagining them to reflect contemporary African American icons. In the past he has made regal portraits of rappers including Notorious BIG, Grandmaster Flash, Michael Jackson, LL Cool J and Ice T.

The portrait is the last in a tradition by the Smithsonian Institute to paint a presidential portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, which has been running since George H. Bush.

Meanwhile ​Michelle Obama has picked Baltimore artist Amy Sherald, also famed for her depictions of African Americans, for her accompanying first lady painting.

The director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, Kim Sajet, commented that she was “absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady”.

She added: “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The two portraits are due to be unveiled early next year.

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Kehinde Wiley